Don’t Twist it Please! One Simple Reason Why Change Management is in Question
Years ago, I was sitting in one of my MBA classes, excited to hear what the lecturer was about to say. The class was on e-commerce, and I was one of the few students with an IT background. I was sure I was going to shine in the class and get an excellent grade. After all the introductions and formalities, he said, “IT doesn’t matter.” He looked cold and indifferent as he repeated the sentence many times. My mouth opened, and I felt threatened for a moment! I thought, well, if it doesn’t matter anymore, then what the hell I am doing here, studying MBA in IT management. The offending phrase is the title of a Harvard Business Review article, written by Nicholas Carr in 2003. He discusses that “when a resource becomes essential to competition but inconsequential to strategy, the risks it creates become more important than the advantages it provides.”
I remember reading something similar on Agile Software Development. The focus of the article was that Agile doesn’t matter anymore; since it is so essential for today’s business, it can no longer be hyped or viewed as a new core competency. Fast forward to today, I see articles titled “Change Management is Dead” and “Change Management is Changing.” Well, it seems that Change Management doesn’t matter anymore, and my profession is one of the early victims of the Industry 4.0 Revolution!
Let’s dive deeper…
First, we cannot talk about something unless we make sure we are all talking about the same concept. So, let’s be clear on the definition of change management. Are we talking about a model, a method, an approach, a process or a profession?
Most people are talking about the so called “Organizational Change Management,” which is focused on how to take care of the “people side of the change.” Professionals state that since all organizational changes ultimately depend on adoption by people, all change management is about individual changes. As for me, long before I called myself a change manager, I was dealing with the angry frustrated people who didn’t understand or like a change. I was exposed to the field of change management during an ERP installation, and without knowing what exactly I was doing, I was faced with people who didn’t want to use or felt threatened by the new system. As I went on to lead a huge scale Agile Transformations, I realized that they are mostly about the people who fundamentally need to change their mindset. I remember once I told my colleagues that, rather than a consultant, I felt like a therapist for people in the organization! It was a brief AHA-moment for me long ago, although I didn’t take it so seriously until very recently.
Traditionally, change management is needed where a “change project” is about to happen, and the impacts on people need to be managed. Ideally, this means how to successfully prepare, equip, and support individuals and an organization as they go through this change successfully (Well! success in change management is a whole different story to tell!) Accordingly, there are particular times for change, and there are particular outcomes to target. Outcomes will essentially lead to a higher ROI, which is the ultimate goal of each organization.
Since change management is associated with a “change project,” it is generally mistaken as “change controlling,” which is a concept in project management. Sadly enough, many organizations expect change managers to be “change controllers,” and unofficially, being a project manager of the “change project.” To me, here is the beginning of confusions and the root of disappointing results of change management.
Change Management is dead, is changing or doesn’t matter anymore, simply because we are talking about humans, but we know nothing about being human, or actually our businesses don’t care about them! In my experience, people don’t need a change manager to tell them what to do. No matter what term is used, change management or something else, in any organization there needs to be people who support employees and their cognitive reaction to any change during their lifetime. These people need to know more about the “psychology and biology of change.” This requires vast and deep expertise in human and social sciences such as cognitive, organizational and environmental psychology and behavioural and neuro- sciences. Also, design and art fields need to play a role. Accordingly, any approach dealing with organizational culture, shifting mindset, and adapting to change, needs to be informed by human sciences.
There are many discussions on why typical change management is obsolete and needs a serious dramatic change. The two foremost discussions on this matter that I agree on are:
- Change is an inevitable phenomenon of today’s business. The concept of normal, changing, and then-again-normal status is no more applicable. Change is an ongoing process that needs to be woven, into the DNA of any organization.
- Change management is not a rigid, prescriptive method to follow and a “tick the box” activity. It is not imposed on employees from the top-down order. The process is a result of intertwined related steps that lead to co-creating effective solutions with all stakeholders.
Well, the above two major change management critiques are something to consider. However, apart from these opinions on change management, one variable which is missing is “the people side of the change.” No matter whether the change is incremental, or transformational; whether change is in the DNA of the company or is merely a project; whether there is a method for change, or it is methodology agnostic; the process needs to consider humans and all their psychological and biological aspects which help them transform.
Let’s assume that we all agree on the focal role of individuals in a changing environment. Then it makes sense to accept that we cannot put humans under a rigid control to change. Even if a so called “change project” is announced to be successful, I doubt that the affected people adhere to any schedule, or project milestone to change their behaviours or habits. We are all facing a pure historical human challenge. We humans may play a new role and wear a new hat but unless our brains and psyches change, all the new behaviours are superficial and doomed to disappear. Change management is not dead, but we humans can do better doing it. We need to simply change the focus and learn how to be the organizational therapists.
Once David Bovis posted:
I’m convinced, knowing brain and mind before leadership, strategy and process will one day be the norm.
…and I cannot agree more.
In my upcoming posts, I will talk in detail on how to benefit from science and art for transformational changes. I am looking forward to any of your perspectives and suggestions on the subject.
I thank many experts for sharing their perspective on today’s changing businesses in the era of digital transformation. I thank Phil Buckley, Graham Wilson, Jason Little, Lena Ross, Ron Leeman, and others for their valuable insights on the subject.
Dr. Behnaz Gholami is a Change Strategist and Transformer in Prompta Consulting Group, based in Toronto, Canada. She is internationally experienced in successfully developing and implementing organizational change management strategies based on human-centered design, and other multidisciplinary pragmatic methods and scientific approaches.